Acculturation is effectively the process by which we learn about another culture and how we fit into it without necessarily losing our own cultural identity or adopting that of the new culture completely.
We can see this happening on a multitude of playing fields in life from moving countries, companies, schools or just neighbourhoods. Those who are unable to go through this process for themselves may more frequently than not, develop issues of lowered mood, lowered positive outlook, impoverished social or industrial relations and even on down the line to poor self-esteem.
This can be difficult to deal with if we are truly unable to fully identify where we stand in our own lives in contrast to a new culture we may find ourselves in, for whatever reason, and where members of the new culture stand in relation to our beliefs, expectations and upbringing. For example, it is not a far-fetched scenario to observe what are termed ‘trailing spouses’ either adapt to a new life in Hong Kong and thrive with their family or to become depressed and develop a desire to return to home or even just a previous location where they may have been more comfortable.
When we examine those who transition from one company to another, we find that the culture within one organisation can contrast sharply with that of another, even when they are a part of the same industry. For example, some banks have a very open-door policy on maternity and paternity leave, imported from their home culture, in contrast to others who may go for the minimum that the law requires and even have it endemic in their culture that work from home is the norm even during this period of time.
When we look at schools, we can have an equally broad array of expectations emanating from everything from homework policy, range of tolerance of aggressiveness levels of teachers to levels of expectations of involvement of parents in either the classroom of groups such as Parent Teacher Associations.
Until we take the time to be open-minded and observe the culture we are entering into and do our research about what to expect, we cannot prepare ourselves nor can we respond as freely as we should be able to if we are caught unawares and lack the resilience or even self-esteem initially to observe, absorb and involve ourselves meaningfully in whatever acculturation process we may find ourselves in.
Below are some seemingly simple but effective ideas to help you or someone you know enjoy their acculturation process no matter which new culture they may immerse or find themselves immersed in. Happy hunting! …
Five Tips for…Settling-In to a New Culture
1. Eat the local food: enjoy what they do and learn to appreciate the local produce, where it was grown, why it grows there, how the recipes developed according to food preparation rituals, codes or availability of materials.
2. Attend a local festival: nothing immerses you more into a culture than participating, as you are able or allowed to do so, in local festivals or community practices. This gives you the opportunity to appreciate how they dress, communicate with each other, what they hold dear to their heart and might just be fun.
3. Learn the public transport system: this might not be easy in some locations as if we are not able to read the language, our ability to move through bustling train stations may be misguided. Still, having the courage to persevere and understand how the systems function and even basic symbols, if the written language is not familiar to you, can ensure you do not stay at home, frozen with worry about getting lost or remain reliant upon expensive taxi services in the long run.
4. Volunteer: yes, even if you don’t speak the same language, finding a way to help others can help you put everything in perspective and give you good insight into the full range of sociodemographics in your community. As an expat, one may feel privileged and enjoy that feeling, but understanding where you can fit in can also be a rewarding experience.
5. Make friends: this may be easier written than done as not every culture makes friends in the same way or even values making new ones. Seeking out opportunities to share who you are and welcome learning about others is a key way that we can appreciate how we will assimilate into a new environment. If not working, this may be the key way we will be able to find our own worth, especially if only one member of the family is working and/or children are at school and are thus afforded that semi-automatic avenue to integration.
There are many more ways and everyone is different, see what works for you given your new surroundings and be brave, reach out into the unknown and enjoy.